HEALTH AND FITNESS: Set up a fitness bench for yourself | Functions

Saving money for emergencies is good advice and important for maintaining quality of life in the event of job loss or another financial crisis. While this may seem logical, many people have been caught with insufficient savings when they needed it and found it difficult to meet their basic needs.

This principle can also be applied to fitness. If you are healthy, you can maintain a high level of fitness. This makes your daily activities easier and serves as a reserve or “couch” to draw from when you need it. Getting in good shape now can get you through a health crisis, just as saving money can get you through a financial crisis. This health crisis can take the form of an injury or illness that prevents you from being active for several days or a hospitalization that puts you in bed for a week, a month or more.

The problem with periods of inactivity, such as bed rest or hospitalization, is that there are serious physiological effects that come on within days and get worse over time. You may have noticed this as weakness and fatigue after lying in bed with a cold for a few days. Muscle strength decreases with each day of bed rest and can be 50% lower after just three weeks. That reduction in strength could limit a person who was already deconditioned to a point where he or she would have difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living.

Someone who was fit and strong when they went to the hospital would certainly be better off if they were discharged. Older adults fare worse than younger individuals. According to one study, the decrease in strength seen in older men in just 10 days was similar to the change seen after 28 days in men 30 years younger.

It’s not just the muscles that are affected; the bones also become weaker. In fact, 12 weeks of bed rest can reduce bone density by as much as 50%, exposing patients to a greater risk of fractures. This is due to the reduced load on the bone from not standing and walking, and from the lack of muscle activity. Two of the most effective ways to build bone density are to put stress on bones through weight-bearing activity and the action of muscles that pull on bones through resistance training. Because bed rest eliminates these stresses, bone density decreases rapidly.

A unique study from the 1960s put healthy young men on bed rest for three weeks. They all experienced a rapid decline (more than 20%) in their aerobic fitness, but recovered quickly after the experiment ended. These people also had themselves tested again 30 years later. It turns out that the decline in fitness in those young men after three weeks of bed rest was greater than the decline in fitness after 30 years of age!

The good news is that most patients are encouraged to exercise as much as possible. Some receive inpatient physical therapy or rehabilitation, even after major surgery, to lessen the effects of prolonged bed rest. It is important to take advantage of these options if you or a loved one is hospitalized.

There are many reasons to exercise and be fit, but the most important reason may be to develop a “fitness bench” that you can draw from if you get injured or hospitalized. Since the effects of bed rest are seen in people of all ages, everyone can benefit from a good fitness base. Like putting money in the bank, doing a little now can pay big dividends later when you need it most.

HEALTH AND FITNESS: Set up a fitness bench for yourself | Functions

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